Go With The Flow

As usual, this past Wednesday I wasn’t sure where my Hebrew classes would take me.  Where would our conversation meander, with my prompting and guidance, and what hi-frequency language could I wrangle from it?screen-shot-2016-10-29-at-10-46-36-am  I knew we needed to keep playing with the hi-frequency language we’d used thus far, and I was wary to start introducing more new words.  The previous (Sunday) Hebrew class was so short – I teach three consecutive 20-minute classes – and with transition and settling time, the kids barely get 12-15 minutes of Hebrew instruction.  Wednesday’s 35-minute classes are the heart of the program.

I loosely planned to continue with our (cognate-filled) animal story from the previous week.  I’d surveyed the kids about their pets while circling doesn’t/have, goes and wants  ( יש, אין, הולך, רוצה).*

screen-shot-2016-10-30-at-5-02-08-pm
Then I sent a pet-seeking volunteer to various pet stores (location posters) around the room, where the shopkeeper (classmate) offered a gorilla, flamingo, zebra, or giraffe.  I was willing to see where the story would go, prepared to layer on a new hi-frequency structure or two, as necessary (i.e., takes it home; buys it; says to –       לוקח הביתה, קונה, אומר ל).baby_giraffe_cartoon-994

The best laid plans….

Wednesday was a rainy, gloomy evening, and the Chicago Cubs had just lost Game 1 of the World Series, 6-0, the night before.  The kids looked tired when they entered the Hebrew room.  I asked some icebreaker questions with charades-like gesturing:  Are you hungry?  Are you sad?  Are you tired?  Presto!  The majority of the kids were understandably exhausted, having been up late the night before watching the Cubs’ drubbing.  I promptly wrote:  אני עייפה, אני עייף  and their translation, I’m tired, on the board.  One of the teachers offered, אני ממש עייפה – ‘I’m REALLY tired!’ and after we established the meaning of the phrase, several boys and girls agreed:    ‘!אני ממש עייף!’   ‘אני ממש עייפה’th

Being the conscientious professional that I am, I did as any self-respecting Jewish Mother-turned Hebrew School teacher would.  I offered them a nice nap.  Right then and there.                           ‘?את/אתה רוצה לישון’  ‘Do you want to sleep?’  One volunteer ‘slept’ on a bed made of 3 class chairs lined up side by side, while his bunkmate slumbered beneath.  A girl snored loudly under a table in the corner, as did a boy on the opposite side of the classroom.  Yet another student sprawled out under her seat.  We (remaining & awake audience members) checked on each of our nappers.  ‘Is s/he tired?  Is s/he sleeping?   Wow!  S/he’s really sleeping!  S/he’s really tired!’  I called up assistants to gently awaken the nappers.  We tried coaxing our sleepers to their feet with soft whispers, light tickling and improvised songs (I led a בוקר טוב = Good Morning song to the tune of, “If You’re Happy and You Know It”).  A girl in one class suggested we tickle our sleepers with my rubber lettuce leaf -סלט – under their noses.  It worked!  We continued around the room playing with each sleeping kid, mirthfully attempting to wake them while getting tons of repetitions on phrases such as, ‘S/he’s sleeping; s/he wants to sleep; s/he is tired.’  Finally, as time ran out, we reached consensus on an appropriate alarm clock sound, and woke our slumberers with a choral sound effect:  Beeeeeeeps, rrrrrinnnngs, and one class decided on a continuous loop of, “!קום בבקשה” – ‘Get up, please!’

screen-shot-2016-10-29-at-8-28-24-pmOur scene went absolutely NOWHERE.  The initial query, “Are you tired?” set the docket for the rest of class.  We simply and gleefully played with the unlikely possibility of taking a teacher-sanctioned nap in Hebrew class.  We explored each actor’s interpretation, one after the next, affording lots of silliness, laughter, and compelling repetition.

As Dr.  Stephen Krashen, father of modern Second Language Acquisition theory says, “Language acquisition proceeds best when the input is not just comprehensible, but really interesting, even compelling; so interesting that you forget you are listening to or reading another language.”

I’ll bet most of the kids didn’t even realize, in the moment, that it was all happening in Hebrew.

*For more info on circling and other Teaching with Comprehensible Input foundational skills, check out these Powerpoint presentations:   Reimagining Modern Hebrew Language Instruction and T/CI Foundational Skills, which are also on my blog homepage tabs, Intro to T/CI and Optimizing SLA, respectively.

Hebrew School and Religious School: 2 Parts of a Harmonious Whole

screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-10-36-23-pmHumans acquire languages one way only:  By understanding messages, aka, Comprehensible Input  (Krashen, Foreign Language Education The Easy Way).

By the time they’re 5 years old, most kids have racked up around 15,000 hours of quality comprehensible language input.  So our 200-400 hour total, after 5 years of supplementary Hebrew school programming, is paltry to say the least.  All this suggests that we must be clear and realistic about our language-outcome expectations.

What kinds of student results can we anticipate from our twice-weekly Hebrew program in grades 3 through 7 (about an hour or so total per week)?  Unlike World Language classes in public school, our kids do get some additional Hebrew input through literacy (reading & writing) instruction as part of the liturgical/lifecycle curricula, which together with Modern Hebrew, makes up the Hebrew supplementary school offering.  Though our supplementary schools have traditionally seen these two domains – Modern Hebrew and Religious Hebrew instruction –  as mutually exclusive, I argue that they can and ought to purposefully inform each other, to fortify the overall program.

screen-shot-2016-10-07-at-4-07-15-pmOur rich and diverse liturgical/lifecycle/holiday curricula – hereafter called religious school – explores prayers, songs, religious artifacts, images, communities (including Israel), food, customs, and some texts.  Let’s discuss the texts.

Until now, when our children first formally learn prayers at religious school, they do so by rote memorization, often with the support of predictable melodies.  The prayers are reinforced in temple music class, through assemblies and special events in the sanctuary, through attending services outside of religious school, and perhaps at home or summer camp, as well.  But we can easily put the written Hebrew words into our students’ hands right away and help them develop at the very least, a right-to-left concept of print, as they didscreen-shot-2016-10-07-at-3-52-52-pm as pre-schoolers (or even earlier these days!) with their native English.

Consider Pat the Bunny or Good Night Moon.  Kids who heard these early favorites on their loved-ones’ laps eventually came to predict and recite the tender words, and many kids began to develop letter-sound correspondences, too!  If they didn’t begin to decode the words by discreet sounds, then they often learned them as sight words, recognizing the combined letter shapes and contours as a whole chunk.

I contend that even with the first 6 words of most standard Hebrew prayers, (ברוך אתה __אלוהינו מלך העולם) our kids could be internalizing nearly half the Hebrew alphabet’s letter-sound correspondences!   After all, these 6 words contain 12 distinct Hebrew letters, including some final-letter forms.  And, BONUS!  One of the words is mega-hi-frequency (conversationally):

אתה means you!

Once the kids are literate in English, we ought to matter-of-factly present the additional modality of Hebrew reading to support and fortify our instruction, specifically AFTER our kids have had ample aural Hebrew comprehensible input of the words in question:   Students’ Hebrew names (a very personal and therefore powerful way to recognize letters and their sounds); prayers and song lyrics; the names of religious objects being studied, etc.  It’s a missed opportunity to refer to such Hebrew words as Shabbat or challah, or תפוחים ודבש  (i.e., apples & honey) screen-shot-2016-10-07-at-4-00-13-pmwithout simultaneously presenting their written Hebrew counterparts in context.  But I’m not advocating for isolated word labelling, like we used to see in so many bilingual classrooms in the 80’s – 90’s.  I’m talking about contextualized chunks of written Hebrew language, chunks that will be repeated orally throughout the normal course of class.

My original question was, “What can we expect our kids to be able to do with Hebrew after 3rd through 7th grade supplementary Hebrew & religious school?”  I just explained how the religious/liturgical/lifecycle studies can reinforce our kids’ Modern Hebrew acumen through increased exposure to contextualized Hebrew text, the more comprehensible & compelling, the better.

As I wrote in my manifesto (here) to our temple’s Education Director, Lori Sagarin, back in November, when I first embarked on this mission to reform Modern Hebrew language education, “By the end of 7th grade, we could realistically hope to graduate students with a strong ear for Hebrew, a great Hebrew accent, resulting from copious auditory input, excellent listening, decoding and reading comprehension within the limited high-frequency Hebrew corpus in which they’ve been immersed, discourse at the paragraph level…, and, in the upper grades, some writing skill beyond simple sentences.  Most importantly, we will bring our students to a proficiency level at which they can seek more language input independently.  We call this early but impressive skill set, ‘micro-fluency.’ (term coined by Terry Waltz, PhD).”

If, by 7th grade, our kids feel that their Hebrew journey thus far has been enjoyable and worthwhile, if they feel confident in their growing Hebrew communication skill set, in their ability to understand and produce comprehensible messages, then they’ll be more inclined to continue their Hebrew trajectory.  In high school, college, travel, ulpan…wherever.screen-shot-2016-10-09-at-9-00-44-am

And we know that mutual understanding is the foundation of trust and peace.

!יאללה    Let’s get going!  There’s work to do in 5777!

Demystifying Hebrew Literacy: Part 1

screen-shot-2016-09-21-at-11-22-33-pmTo most American English speakers, languages written in non-Romanized letters seem impossibly difficult.  Their very unfamiliarity is off-putting at the least, and constitutes a deal-breaker for many.  “How can I possibly learn….? (Fill in the blank:  Hebrew, Mandarin, Arabic, Russian, etc.)  The writing is downright indecipherable!”

After 4 sessions (around +-2 hours total) of high-frequency-verb-containing Hebrew Comprehensible (auditory) Input, I decided it was time to shift gears for a moment and have our kids try their hand at Hebrew writing.  I also wanted to dispel any fear of ‘cursive without vowels’ for my students and their parents before it surfaced.  Not that they haven’t written Hebrew before….All but this year’s 3rd graders have explored the Hebrew written word to various degrees.  The younger grades (3rd – 5th) have mostly decoded liturgical Hebrew and have muddled through Modern Hebrew basal readers that slice and dice the language into isolated letters, phonemes and chunks in an effort to lay-in letter-sound correspondence (plus nikkud = vowels).  This laser focus on discreet sounds has been all but abandoned in most Language Arts classrooms, in favor of reading instruction centered on whole words and phrases, the building blocks of meaning.  The 6th graders explored trope last year as they prepared for their Bar and Bat Mitzvah, and have happily retained their solid decoding skills.

Since September 7, my 3rd through 7th graders have seen me establish meaning by writing words on the board in Hebrew, and translating them to English right below, regularly pausing and pointing to reinforce & connect the written word with sound with meaning.  Now it was time to scaffold another language experience where they’d feel successful and encouraged.  It called for a fail-proof process, so I employed my secret ace-in-the hole tool:  The humble and hardworking dry erase lap board.

Any multi-step procedure in the CI classroom is but a (cloaked) opportunity/invitation for careful listening and repetitions, so I turned the distribution and handling of the materials into Total Physical Response (TPR):

(בעברית)

Put your board, pen and eraser under your chair.screen-shot-2016-09-21-at-10-23-57-pmscreen-shot-2016-09-21-at-10-19-52-pm

Pick up your board.

Put your board under the chair.

Pick up the pen.  Open (un-cap) the pen.  Close the pen.

Put the pen under your chair.

Pick up the eraser.   Put the eraser under your chair.

Pick up the board.

I gestured and paused/pointed to all necessary vocabulary written on the big board.  So far so good.

Next I had the kids take off their name tags and place it on their lapboards, on the lined side (the flip side is un-lined).  I asked them to copy their Hebrew names with their pointer finger between the lines on the board.  I referred to this simple print and cursive Alef Bet poster I’d hung on the wall, reminding them that we’d be using cursive exclusively.  Finger spelling IS NOT BABYISH when you’re learning (reviewing?) to form new letters!

I invited my kids to uncap their markers and, with no regard for letter formation, copy their Hebrew names onto their dry-erase lapboards.  Again and again.  I circulated around the room with the other Hebrew teachers, insuring that the sofIT letters were long/tall enough, that the ’ר’ didn׳t look like a ’כ’ and so on.

It never fails.  Students love to skate and glide their markers across the shiny board surface.  And the task is so forgiving.  If you make a ’ד’ that looks like a ’צ’, then simply sweep it away with your eraser and try, try again.  Mistakes are good.  They mean you’re trying.  Confident students were encouraged to write their names without looking at their name tag exemplar.

Soon I was looking at a sea of proud faces and Hebrew-filled lapboards.

Next I modeled these instructions (I used some English here):

Erase your boards.

screen-shot-2016-09-21-at-11-16-11-pmStand up.

Raise one arm.

Close your eyes.

See your Hebrew name in your mind.

Copy your name in the sky.  (That’s right.  3rd through 7th graders skywriting.)

Sit down.

It was nearly time to go.  I asked who wanted to try a bit more writing – this time a complete sentence.  Hands shot up like weeds after a summer storm.

I urged them to write the word, ’אני’ followed by their Hebrew name, as in, ’אני עליזה’.  “I am Alisa.”  A notebook exercise blossomed into a meaningful message before our eyes.

Their faces lit up with success.

“Is Hebrew writing as hard as you thought it would be?”  “Not really.”

Not when you have what you need.  Not when your message is simple and narrow.screen-shot-2016-09-21-at-11-05-14-pm

Before class ended, I assigned the first ‘major’ homework assignment of the year:

To skywrite their Hebrew name as often as possible over the next few days – in the shower, in bed, in the car…. And for extra credit?  To extend to a sentence by putting ‘אני in front of it.   .אני שמחה

 

Personalizing and Customizing the Comprehensible Hebrew Classroom

You may wonder, dear reader, “Where can I get my hands on a curriculum and/or pacing guide for teaching Comprehensible Hebrew?”  The quick answer to your query is unpopular but true.  A Comprehensible Input-based curriculum is a moving target, and a very personal one at that.  Personal to the teacher’s style and imagination, and personalized to meet the developmental, individual, social and cultural needs of her students.  In short a Comprehensible Input-based curriculum is emergent – generated from the interests and ideas of the group/s you’re teaching.  (Though I am noodling the idea of creating a Hebrew supplementary school articulated curriculum….stay tuned!?!)

Take for example the story seeds I was sowing in my 6th-7th grade group on Wednesday night.  I don’t really know these 25 kids yet (it was only our 3rd meeting), so I still rely on name tags to identify them.  I certainly don’t know what their interests and passions are yet, though I’m beginning to explore this in an effort to build relationships and create a positive classroom community.  I knew I wanted to start exposing the group to some of the highest frequency verbs, so I decided to get started with a safe crowd-pleaser topic, food, using the verbs ‘likes/loves’ and ‘(doesn’t) have.’  (i.e., איו, יש, אוהב)  This was the basis for my Wednesday lesson plan.

I pre-selected some Hebrew cognate food props from my vault of amazing plastic facsimiles, then, I printed out some local restaurant logos from Google images, to match the food choices, and made colorful posters of these locales to hang throughout the classroom.  (I heard the kids mention some of the restaurants during our last class together).  A local Italian place, two burger joints (so I could get some compare/contrast language in – more on that another time), and a Middle Eastern spot, all within minutes of the temple.  Class runs from 5:30 – 6:00pm, so I knew that dinner fare would play well.

Already I had several ingredients for a customized experience:  Familiar kid-friendly foods that they were likely to have opinions about, from local places that most kids would know first-hand.  The evening menu then became an exploration of food/restaurant preferences, within a simple and repetitive story framework.

Like all stories, mine had a central problem that emerged when my student, Leah volunteered that she loves felafel.screen-shot-2016-09-17-at-4-51-58-pm  For nearly 25 minutes we spent time in Hebrew trying to track down felafel for our hungry protagonist.  First she went to Maggiano’s, our Italian venue, hungrily seeking felafel.  I accompanied her across the classroom toward the Maggiano’s poster, where a Maggiano’s representative/classmate was waiting, a luscious slice of (plastic) pizza in one fist, a rubbery beige disc of coiled pasta in the other.  I did the talking while my actors silently brought our drama to life.  As dramatic director, I coached Leah to rub her stomach, stating that she loves felafel, while the class confirmed that no, unfortunately Maggiano’s doesn’t have felafel.  It has pizza, and it has spaghetti.

ME:  “Do you like pizza?”

LEAH:  “No.”

“Class, Leah doesn’t like pizza!”screen-shot-2016-09-17-at-4-59-06-pm

“Oh, No!”

Do you like spaghetti?”

No.”

“Class!  Leah doesn’t like spaghetti!”

“Oh, no!”

“Leah, what do you like?”

“Felafel!”

Class, what does she like?”

“Felafel!”

“Does Maggiano’s have felafel?”

“No!”

“Class, Maggiano’s doesn’t have felafel!”

“Oh, no!  Oh, no!”

“Maggiano’s doesn’t have felafel!  Who has felafel?  Does Portillo’s have felafel?”

Our conversation continued in this way, punctuated by student rejoinders – (אוי ואבוי = Oh, no!) –  as Leah sought hunger relief at Portillo’s and Poochie’s.  By the end of class she had trekked around the room from eatery to eatery, rejecting (plastic) pizza, spaghetti, burgers and fries (with ketchup – also a cognate!)  Finally, she stood face to face with a classmate/employee at Pita Inn.  “Does Pita Inn have felafel?”  Everyone was ready to escape this onerous predicament.  “Yes!” they all chimed in.  “Pita Inn HAS felafel!”

At the end of class Leah received a plastic pita bread (aka felafel sandwich) and pretended to hungrily dig in.  We applauded her perseverance and drama skills, and we all went home to dinner.

Day 3 for this group (+-90 cumulative minutes of instruction) – and they just co-spun their first Hebrew story.